Tennis rivals' row gets personal

MARIA Sharapova tore into Wimbledon rival Serena Williams on the eve of the Championships, setting the tone for a tournament likely to be dominated by their unseemly public row.

The Russian blasted the defending champion for her controversial comments over a high-profile rape case and even ripped into the American's colourful private life.

In the astonishing attack on the world No1, Sharapova told Williams to keep her opinions to herself, laying bare the pair's bitter relationship.

Williams, the 16-time grand slam title-winner, was forced to apologise for her comments regarding the rape of a 16-year-old girl by two high school American football players in Ohio.

"She should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that's just getting attention and controversy," said Sharapova.

The world No3, who has not beaten her great rival since 2004, also criticised Williams' love life after the American had aimed a thinly-disguised jibe at the Russian's affair with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov - believed to be a former Williams boyfriend.

"There are people who live, breathe and dress tennis. I mean, seriously, give it a rest," Williams told Rolling Stone magazine without naming Sharapova.

"She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' - it's so boring. She's still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it."

Sharapova, clearly upset at the insinuation, hit back at Williams' romance with her French coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

"If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids," said Sharapova.

Williams, targeting a sixth All England Club title and 17th major, is fresh from her second French Open triumph, having beaten Sharapova in the final. She is on a 31-match winning run, the best of her career.

She is now just two grand slam titles behind the 18 won by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and six back from the 22 racked up by Steffi Graf.

Williams' confidence is bad news for Sharapova, who is seeking a second Wimbledon title, nine years after her first. Her defeat in Paris was her 14th in 16 meetings with Williams.

Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is seeded second. The Belarusian will be looking to go further than the semifinals she reached in the last two years at Wimbledon.

Another contender with something to prove is the 2011 champion Petra Kvitova.

The Czech was dumped out in the quarter-finals by Williams last year and has yet to get past a grand slam fourth round since.

Five-times champion Venus Williams will be missing due to an ongoing lower back injury.

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